Appalachian Football vs #21 Louisiana

Appalachian State (7-2, 5-1 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana (8-1, 6-1 Sun Belt)

Friday, December 4th, 2020 8:30pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Capacity: 31,000

Surface: Astroturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 76.30

Louisiana: 76.59

Home: 1.03

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 0.74 points

Line: App State -2.5

Series: App State leads 8-0

Last Meeting: App State 45, Louisiana 38, Boone, NC December 7, 2019

It’s finally Louisiana week…. again. We had all hoped to do this for the third straight season, but this year is not the same as any other. So we settle to makeup a postponed game that was scheduled to have occurred two months ago. Although a trophy is not on the line in this edition, bragging rights remain like they always do. Louisiana is tired of it. They are tired of looking at 0-8, tired of hearing about it, and they want to do something about it. On the other sideline, a team wants to continue that streak and send out a fantastic group of seniors, if its their last game, out on the right note. Louisiana certainly does not want to think about a loss for two weeks before having to travel back to the east coast to play another conference championship game on the road. And the Mountaineers want to strive for another ten win season before playing their most hated rivals in the regular season finale. Both teams have reasons to look ahead, but don’t expect this game to lose one bit of luster because a trophy is nowhere to be seen.

The Ragin Cajuns win over then-ranked #23, now-ranked #12 Iowa State has been viewed positively, then negatively, and now again in a more beneficial light. Fact is, when that game was played in mid-September, it was the opening game for both teams, and it’s much easier to sneak up on a Power Five opponent fresh out of the gates. There is no doubt that Iowa State is a good team, probably a better team than they were nearly three months ago, but it’s hard to put much stock into a team you beat three months ago during a pandemic. Nonetheless, Louisiana beat Iowa State, and then proceeded to play four games that were decided by one possession, three in conference, and one out of conference. The Cajuns needed overtime to beat Georgia State, a 53-yard field goal as time expired to defeat Georgia Southern at home, lost to Coastal on a late field goal at home, and then edged UAB with a fourth quarter touchdown to win. The Cajuns trailed UAB after every quarter of that game, except the one that mattered, the fourth. Its arguable that every single one of those games could have had a different result. In the last month, the Cajuns have defeated Texas State, Arkansas State, South Alabama and UL-Monroe. Neither of those teams are exactly lighting the world on fire, as South Alabama has the best record at 4-6 overall. That’s the Sun Belt West for you.

Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis will be playing his sixth game in his career against App State on Friday night. It might not be his last one, as the senior announced his intentions to return to school in 2021, taking advantage of an NCAA rule. Lewis saw mop up time in the 2017 game in which App blistered that Cajuns for a 63-14 win. Like every other Cajun footballer, Lewis has never defeated App State. What has been asked of him in 2020, is slightly different than years past. The Cajuns have typically relied on a dominant running game, which has only helped Lewis throughout most of his career, but that ground attack has not been as fruitful. Lewis is throwing for about seven more yards per game in 2020 than 2019, and that’s really not a big deal one way or the other. However, his wide receivers have tailed off as well. Lewis had only thrown seven interceptions in his career in thirty-two games coming into 2020, but has thrown seven picks in just nine games this season. His accuracy has dropped a couple percentage points and so has his touchdown passes per game. In addition, Lewis is running the ball more than he has in the previous two seasons. which includes five rushing touchdowns.

These names are all so familiar. Elijah Mitchell is coming off back to back seasons with 1,100+ rushing yards and double digit touchdowns. Mitchell had four 100+ yard rushing games in 2018, five such games in 2019, but has only run for 100+ yards once in 2020. For his career, Mitchell has averaged 6.1 yards per carry on the ground, but that number is reduced to 4.7 yards per carry when you single out his performances against App State. He has never hit 100 yards in a game against the Mountaineers, but has come close. App State has contained him before and must do so again on Saturday. Trey Ragas and Mitchell look like nearly the same guy on the stat sheet, but they are different backs. Ragas is listed an inch shorter and about twelve pounds heavier than Mitchell. Ragas scored three of his seven touchdowns against Texas State, which also featured his only 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Ragas started the season slow, but has produced lines of 131-75-78-95 in the last four games. That is good for right at 95 yards average per game as the season closes.

If kickoff times are any indication of how well App plays, the night time has been the right time. Earlier this season, the Mountaineers throttled Arkansas State on a weeknight with 45 offensive points. Last week, App State added 47 more points in another game that was played mostly under the lights. And then comes the 8:30pm start, that will only bring more of a Boone chill to the night. It’s not the story, but it is a variable the Cajuns have to account for. Another would be a resurgent offense that put on a decent display last week. The first three offensive scores of the game were made by App State playmakers in Camerun Peoples, Malik Williams and Thomas Hennigan. Peoples finished with 95 yards rushing after a 63-yard touchdown run. Williams caught seven passes for 113 yards and a score, and Hennigan had one of his more active games in a quite a while since nursing a leg injury, with six receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Zac Thomas threw four touchdown passes on a pretty flawless night to four different receivers.

Besides the obvious lopsided nature to this series, it has always been intriguing how it has unfolded. The first four installments were surprising, yet validating wins by App State that proved to themselves and others they could compete in FBS football. The first game was the closest, a dominating 19 point win in Lafayette. Then App won by 21 points, 24 points and then 49 points. When Billy Napier was hired, things quickly changed. Since 2018, all four games have been decided by 11 points or fewer. Last year’s Sun Belt Championship game was a cakewalk of sorts for App State, but Napier kept them fighting until the bitter end. This year, a Sun Belt title will not be on the line, but you would expect a similar game to unfold as we have seen in three of the last four games. Both teams have taken a small step back on offense in 2020, but that is mainly because both teams were exceptionally good last season. The Cajuns averaged 257 yards a game last year on the ground while also scoring close to 38 points per game. Those numbers have decreased to 217 yards rushing a game and 35 points per game. The rushing drop off is most significant while the 2020 points average is buoyed by a 70-point outburst last week. Remove that game, and the Cajuns have scored just under 31 points per contest. That’s nearly a whole touchdown less from one year to the next. The reason is the Cajuns do not have a game changing wide receiver. They have spread the ball around a lot this season, as three pass catchers have eclipsed just 300 yards receiving on the season. It’s been more of a plodding offense compared to 2019. More plays run, but less points scored. The 2019 Cajuns possessed the ball for 30:24 a game and converted close to 48% of their third downs. In 2020, the Cajuns have lost nearly two minutes a game of possession, down to 28:28 on average, and converted just over 42% of their third downs. Likewise, App State has not been as dominant, but the falloff has not been as severe as it has for Louisiana. This one comes down to quarterbacks. We have veteran players who have played in a lot of big games, but one has been more accomplished, and that’s the difference. Zac Thomas has not had big passing yard games against Louisiana in the past, but he hasn’t needed it. In 2018, Thomas ran 14 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns in two games, and last season, backed it up with 28 carries for 88 yards and two more scores in two games. Levi Lewis can run too, but he won’t be asked to carry it like Thomas will.

The First Pick

LaLa 24

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football @ Texas State

Appalachian State (4-1, 2-0 Sun Belt) vs Texas State (1-7, 1-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 7th, 2020 3:00pm EST

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: Boone/Blowing Rock: WATA 1450 AM & 96.5 FM; North Wilkesboro/Hickory/Charlotte WKBC 97.3 FM; Asheville WZGM 1350 AM; Hendersonville WHKP 107.7 FM & 1450 AM; Charlotte/Gastonia WCGC 1270 AM; Charlotte/Rock Hill WAVO 1150 AM; Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point WSJS 101.5 FM & 600 AM

Bobcat Stadium

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: FieldTurf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 78.22

Texas State: 57.30

Home: 1.87

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 19.05 points

Line: App State -17.0

Series: App State leads 5-0

Last Meeting: App State 35, Texas State 13, Boone, NC November 23, 2019

Getting up for Louisiana-Monroe and Texas State might be tough, but having them in consecutive weeks might be helpful. The Mountaineers are fully aware that last week was a “get up and get out” kind of game. No need to embarrass your opponent. Score a few points, sit back and watch the defense ball out and move on. Those type of games are also perfect practice to hone the craft and work on the small details in the film room to prepare for the next game. Texas State has equally struggled sometimes on both sides of the ball, and their record looks very similar to Monroe. Nonetheless, they are a dangerous team, that is hungry to get things turned around and have made some strides, but are running out of time. You just don’t know what kind of team you will be dealing with. Teams with nothing to win also have nothing to lose. App State can not win a conference championship this weekend, but they can take the next step in achieving that goal. The next mission is keep all of that energy focused into one sixty minute segment of football at a time.

Last week, we could firmly say that Monroe was a team that looked like their record. The same cannot be said about Texas State. Of course, at the end of the day, your record is what you are, but the Bobcats are not playing like a 1-7 team. That was evident from the beginning of the season when they gave Southern Methodist more than a good scare in just a seven point loss. That was followed by a coin-flip double overtime loss to UT-San Antonio, and a win over Monroe. Then the Bobcats travelled to Chestnut Hill and gave Boston College all they could handle. Texas State took a one touchdown lead into the fourth quarter, but could not hold on. In the opening games against the Power Five opponents, Texas State was able the run the ball well enough to keep the score reasonable, they just could not execute in the closing moments on both sides of the ball. In October, the Bobcats were less competitive, losing all four games by more than ten points, giving up at least 30 points in each contest, for an average of over 40 points allowed in the month.

Separating the first four games and the second four games, you see that Texas State only ran the ball for a few less yards per game, but the passing efficiency is really the key here. Texas State threw for at least 227 yards or more in each of the first four games, but has only eclipsed 200 yards passing once in the most recent quartet of games. In addition, the Bobcats threw ten touchdown passes in the first half of the season, but only five since then. Have they played better than the past? Yes. Are they playing better right now? That answer is up for discussion. Running back Brock Sturges is playing better with opportunity. Sturges had a season high seventeen carries last week in the loss to Louisiana, which he turned into 128 yards and two touchdowns, also season highs. Sturges had only carried the ball eight times a game in each of the last three contests. Calvin Hill is a freshman running back that gets passing game work, with sixteen receptions on the season. Hill’s rushing attempts have decreased as the season has worn on, averaging a little over twelve carries a game in the first four games, and just a shade over seven carries in the last four games.

Texas State been forced to use two quarterbacks for most of the 2020 season. Tyler Vitt and Brady McBride have each played in six games, but the Bobcats have played in eight, so you see the issue. Quarterback play and continuity concerns usually lead to a struggling offense. It may be apparent that McBride has emerged as the long term starter, but Coach Spavital mentioned in media availability on Wednesday that the position has been opened back up. Seeing Vitt would be surprising this weekend, because he has not faired well against App State in the past. Vitt threw for 154 yards and an interception against App in 2019, and 106 yards and an interception two seasons ago. Back to McBride, a Memphis transfer with two more years of eligibility remaining under normal circumstances. His statistics do not look good on paper, but he has the best chance to become a multi-year starter. McBride has thrown interceptions in four of six games played, and have racked up five interceptions in the last two weeks. This may be why Texas State suddenly has a quarterback competition again. That does not bode well facing an App State defense with eight interceptions on the season, and has been defending pass catchers as well as any unit in the country.

Last week was a pretty ho-hum effort by the Mountaineers. It was not too flashy, but it also did not need to be. The workmanlike effort filtered all the way down to Zac Thomas leading the team in rushing with 109 yards. The Mountaineers continue to spread the wealth on offense in both facets of the game. Six players caught passes and seven different Mountaineers got a carry. Of the primary ball carriers, four players split forty-four carries, with Marcus Williams Jr leading the team with just thirteen carries. The real story for App State this season is the play of the defense. Despite allowing a late touchdown that was inconsequential to the final result, App State is allowing a miniscule 17.6 points per game across the season. Teams are only rushing for 122 yards per game and opposing offenses are averaging just 4.76 yards per play, the seventeenth fewest in the country.

For App State, this part of the schedule always seemed like a place where complacency could have set in. Back to back trips west of the Mississippi River after what was supposed to be three straight weeks of tough conference opponents seemed like a potential spot for a slip up. But now, the schedule has shaken out in App State’s favor to an extent. This will likely be the last time App plays two road games in a row this season before returning to Boone next weekend. Thus, the schedule becomes normal. That’s a good thing. Still, App State has to make one of the longest road trips of the season this weekend against an improving team that really has nothing to lose, and is trying to find themselves. Now, we have an open quarterback competition. So does Texas State go back to the option that was not working? Or do they mix it up, because why not? Texas State will not win with the turnovers. They need a quarterback who is willing to throw the ball away and play another down. Without the turnovers last week, they might have been able to defeat Louisiana. The Bobcats must also get back to more manageable third down plays. In the past four weeks, Texas State has converted just eight of fifty-two third downs. Look for App State to put the ball in the air this weekend. The Bobcat secondary is super thin due to injuries. Coach Spavital also said on Wednesday, “The problem with our next man up approach, is we are running out of men”. Yikes. Texas State has surrendered twelve touchdowns passes in the last four games. They have allowed at least one forty yard pass play in five of eight games in addition to five 300-yard passing efforts in five of eight games. All of this while only sacking quarterbacks eight times all season. This one should be easy for the visitors.

The First Pick

Maroon Kats 15

Mountaineers 45

Appalachian Football vs Troy

Appalachian State (8-2, 6-1 Sun Belt) @ Troy (9-2, 7-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 24th, 2018 2:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450AM/96.5FM Boone, Blowing Rock; WCGC 1270 AM Gastonia, Charlotte; 1150 AM Rock Hill/Charlotte, WRAL 101.5FM/600AM Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point; WHKP 107.7 FM/1450AM Hendersonville; WZGM 1350AM Asheville

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Capacity: 30,000

Surface: Fieldturf

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.41

Troy: 66.53

Home: 2.33

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -10.5

Series: Tied 3-3

Last meeting: Troy 28, App State 24,  November 12th, 2016, Troy, AL

WxCrum Forecast: Cold rain becoming scattered showers, Temps hovering mid 40’s

Big games are what big time programs live for. Sometimes you win those games and sometimes you lose, but you always live for the big ones. The Mountaineers are hopefully facing three big games in a row. In the meantime, the App State redemption tour rolls on. Similar to South Alabama, and Arkansas State both winning in Boone the last time they faced the Mountaineers, Troy defeated them the last time they faced off in 2016. The Trojans converted a late fourth down for a forty-three yard gain that set up the go-ahead touchdown. At that point, the Mountaineers thought their chances were doomed for a conference title. Luckily, that was not the case. In 2018, a loss to Troy would ensure that App State will not win a conference title. A win moves them one step closer to the ultimate goal, playing the last conference football game of the season, and the inaugural conference championship game in their own backyard. This is the game that has been circled by both sides for months on end and we have finally made it. 

Troy has had a perfect season in conference play, winning all seven games, with only one scare, which just happened to be last week at home to Texas State. Besides that, the Trojans had won every game by at least eight points. It was not a surprise that Texas State gave Troy a game, but as to how the game played out. Coupled with the way Appalachian disposed of Texas State easily the week before, it turned into an alarming result. Troy turned six total turnovers by the Bobcats into just four field goals. Earlier in the season the Trojans were thrown around like a rag doll by Boise State in the opening weekend and committed the ultimate sin of losing to transitioning Liberty a week after starting quarterback Kaleb Barker was lost to an injury for the season. 

Troy head coach Neal Brown and Scott Satterfield are mirror images of each other. Both are always mentioned as possible replacements each time a college football job opens up. They both revived once proud programs who had a couple underachieving seasons. Both prefer balanced offenses and good defensive play and oh yeah, they both like to win. Brown is in his fourth season and has thirty four wins. Satterfield is in his sixth season, and is one win away from a coaching milestone, his fiftieth win. They are considered the class of the conference and both could be in line for Sun Belt coach of the year if they pull off a conference title after having to replace four year starting quarterbacks coming into the season. 

Current Troy quarterback Sawyer Smith looks the part of a backup. His statistics do not quite measure up to his predecessor in Kaleb Barker, but they both look the same on the field despite Smith listed as the bigger player at 6’3  and 220 pounds. Smith’s rushing statistics do not look great recently, but he has the ability to break a long run, as evidenced by a 63-yard run versus Georgia State and a 57-yard run against Nebraska. The most interesting part of his game is his up and down passing lines. He’s only thrown multiple touchdowns in a game once, against South Alabama. He does have a couple of big games to his name, like Georgia Southern and Louisiana, where he threw for 287 and 317 yards respectively. But then there are the Texas State, Liberty games where he was held under 150 yards passing. The up and down play begs the questions. Which Sawyer Smith will the Mountaineers see this Saturday?

Junior BJ Smith has been hauling the mail for the Trojans this season, especially since the Trojans lost Barker. Smith did not see twenty carries in a game until Liberty, the first with Sawyer Smith behind center. Since then, he has had twenty or more carries in every single game. He had a five game streak of 100-yard rushing games snapped two weeks ago. Georgia Southern and Texas State held Smith below the century mark and also kept his average under four yards for the game. Both Southern and Texas State have similar defenses to Appalachian, which mean’s Troy will be facing a tough defense for the third week in a row.

With his sixth multi-passing touchdown game of the season, Zac Thomas made light work of Georgia State. Since his return from injury, Thomas has completed 75% of his passes for 529 yards and five touchdowns, zero interceptions, and throw in 103 yards on the ground for fun. When his number has been called in 2018, he has answered it every single time. Thomas is an absolute gamer who loves the when the ball is in hands. The more he is involved, the better he plays. Darryonton Evans has quickly sprung into action as a near every down home run threat. When he gets a crease, he hits it and finishes. Evans is just 140 yards away from a 1,000 yard season, which seems likely no matter the number of games he has to accomplish it. Corey Sutton nabbed another four passes and registered his second career one-hundred yard game. 

So what does all this add up to? We have a game between two really good teams, the top ranked defenses in the conference in what could potentially be a bad weather game with a ton at stake. Troy’s wide receivers were notably absent from much of the game last week against Texas State. Expect some of them to be back on the field this weekend, but there is no way they will be at full health. BJ Smith has also been battling a knee injury, yet continues to get heavy usage in the run game. Despite all this, Troy has persevered, and relied heavily on their defense to keep them in games while their offense figures out the best way to attack the opposing defense. In five full games post-Barker injury, Troy is averaging just 25.2 points per game, which is down from their season average of 31.5 per contest. Now, when your defense is only allowing 16.6 in that same five game stretch, scoring like they have been is plenty, but it might not be plenty to beat the Mountaineers. It has been three full years since App State last lost a Sun Belt home game. Likewise, Troy is on a thirteen game conference win streak, their last loss to rival South Alabama. If a team gets a two score win this weekend, it’ll be hard for the trailing team to make a comeback. Both teams have mostly lived off getting ahead early and letting their defense finish off their opponent. Essentially, I don’t think Troy has enough offense at this point of the season to keep pace with App State who seems to be hitting their stride at the right time. 

 

The First Pick

T-Roy 19

Mountaineers 31

Appalachian Football vs Gardner Webb

Appalachian State (1-1, 0-0 Sun Belt) vs Gardner Webb (1-2, 0-0 Big South)

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 3:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN+

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium 

Surface: Fieldturf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 75.86

Gardner Webb: 30.45

Home: 2.67

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 48 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: NL

Series: App State leads 7-0

Last meeting: App State 45, Gardner Webb 7, October 6, 2007

WxCrum Forecast: Increasing Clouds, with chances of rain, Temps in the Mid 70’s

As a fan, dealing with a bye week is brutal enough. This past weekend was worse. Watching college football on television is usually fun, but when your team is not playing when they were scheduled to, just steps from your own doorstep? Just about as bad as it gets. Football fans have that every week routine. It begins on Monday with teleconferences and news articles, and progresses throughout the week with coaches shows and practice reports. Next thing you know, its Thursday, the day before you might travel to a game. And you do it over and over again. Week after week, the players, coaches, fans, journalists, equipment managers and everyone in between, embrace that grind. There are not many more magical times of the year than football season. September without a football game is like Easter without eggs, Christmas with no ham, and Kool-Aid without sugar. It just isn’t the same. Eventually we all move on, and the games return and its all forgotten, but it was a grim time for several days. Hopefully, when toe meets leather on Saturday afternoon, we’ll all be back in our happy place: the win column. 

The head coach of the Runnin’ Bulldogs is 1983 alum Carroll McCray, who is in his sixth season in Boiling Springs. Previously, McCray was in charge at Austin Peay from 2003-06. McCray spent his first four years in the coaching world under one Sparky Woods from 1983-87 in Boone, NC at App State. McCray carries a 38-77 all time record, and more recently is 22-38 at his alma mater. His lone winning season in his ten year head coaching career came in his first season at Gardner-Webb, where his team went 7-5. The Runnin’ Bulldogs play a tougher than usual schedule for a Big South squad. Besides their first two losses of the season coming to North Carolina A&T and Western Carolina, Gardner-Webb also faces off against 2017 FCS playoff participants Monmouth and Charleston Southern to close the season. Currently ranked in the top ten of the FCS polls, Wofford and Kennesaw State also loom on the horizon for Gardner-Webb.

Although it has been a short time since App State has been in FBS, it feels like ages ago. Watching film of Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina brought back a lot of memories. A smattering of fans, 2,257 “attended” the game, that was moved up one day to avoid Hurricane Florence. Gardner-Webb racked up 246 total yards of offense on 70 plays. For much of the game, these two teams didn’t seem like they were very far off in regards to talent, but the box score paints a different story. The Bulldogs gained 145 yards rushing, but also lost 48 yards on the ground. All in all, they gained 2.4 yards per rush on their forty attempts. 

No longer feeling sorry for Zac Thomas, the sophomore was perfect against UNC-Charlotte. No, seriously, he completed all fourteen of his passes, for 295 yards and three scores. Very tidy numbers. Two of his scores, to Corey Sutton and Dominique Heath were absolute dimes, right on the pylons. Thomas added twenty-nine yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown. His next incomplete pass will draw groans and boos from the crowd. Kidding aside, Thomas has exceeded expectations quickly, and fans are chomping at the bit to see what he can do next. 

Maybe the next thing that Zac Thomas will do is throw a pass to Corey Sutton and let him leave defenders sprawled out in his wake. Oh, sorry, that has already happened and we’ll probably see it again before too long. Thomas hit eight receivers against UNCC, with Sutton being the main beneficiary. Sutton’s catches went for 27, 38 and 90 yards. That gives him a decent slash line for two games at 9/242/2 on the season. Also benefiting is Malik Williams, who snagged three passes for 51 yards, including a big catch and run for 38 yards that set up App State’s third touchdown of the day in the 45-6 trouncing of the 49ers. 

There have been few murmurs of football the last two weeks with much of the focus being placed on hurricane relief. Sure, we stomped the mud a few times over the last several days over the assumed unwillingness of our last scheduled opponent’s desire to play the Mountaineers anywhere. It was an emotional time for all involved. But alas, here we are, with what seems like a second beginning to the football season. Gardner-Webb provides one final tuneup prior to hitting the conference slate for eight straight games. I want that twelfth game back as much as anyone, and we’ll get it back, and hopefully at home if we take care of what is ahead of us for the next two-plus months. Gardner-Webb’s roster is mostly homegrown and very young. Leading rusher Jayln Cagle is from Kannapolis. Leading receiver Kyle Horton played high school at Charlotte’s Mallard Creek. Four of their top six tacklers are also from North and South Carolina. Even their kickoff specialist is from Newland. This team will have something to prove, despite nearly two dozen freshman seeing game action this year. They have not had much offense to speak of, but they get up, wipe themselves off and continue to play. The effort is there, the execution, not so much. Gardner-Webb has not scored at all in the second half this year in either loss, and have just managed 16 points in their last 120 minutes of football. Additionally, the Runnin’ Bulldogs have never scored more than 17 points on Appalachian, while the Mountaineers have scored 30 or more in five straight games. By the time Saturday is over, it should be six in a row. 

The First Pick

Runnin’ on Fumes 10

Mountaineers 56

Appalachian Football vs Georgia Southern

Appalachian State (5-4, 4-1 Sun Belt) vs Georgia Southern (0-8, 0-4 Sun Belt)

Thursday, November 9th, 2017 7:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPNU

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 62.25

Ga Southern: 45.87

Home: 2.14

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 18.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -17.5

Series: App State leads 18-13-1

Last meeting: App State 34, Ga Southern 10, October 27th, 2016

Boy, did this season come crashing down in a quick hurry. Three games left, none of them guaranteed and it’s November and the Mountaineers aren’t bowl eligible yet. Is it finally the right time for this season to turn around? We might be past that point. How difficult is it to pick everything up after a couple of soul crushing losses. Is it the right time, for your winless and most hated rival to see blood in the water. Georgia Southern would love nothing more than to finish off the Apps slim hopes of a conference title. They would never stop talking about it down there in Statesboro. And that is exactly the reason why we can’t let it happen. The motivation to just beat Southern is all you really need. Nobody gives a darn at this point what the records are. Nobody will care that you beat a spread. When they ask in twenty years what your record was when you played Southern, that will be what really matters. Ten seasons ago, App produced one of its most dominant teams, perhaps ever, but they didn’t beat Southern. We all know how much that games eats at those past legends to this day. These seniors have a chance to become to the first group of players to play in three bowl games in their three seasons of eligibility. That should be your motivation. Get over last weekend, and make a name for yourself that nobody will forget.

Goodness gracious. Where can we start with Georgia Southern? After just eighteen games, Southern relieved their coach, Tyson Summers, and began preparing for the future. They got a head start on searching for their fourth full time head coach this decade, while at the same time giving long time Eagle assistant Chad Lunsford an opportunity to audition for the job. In two games, Lunsford’s Eagles have failed to score twenty points in either contest and have averaged just over four yards a play combined in both games.

So what are the Eagles good at this season? Not really much of anything. Obviously, they are still running the ball, trying to get better with a traditional Southern attack on the ground. They do average 202 rushing yards per game, which is good for 33rd nationally, but they are the only team in top 50 in the country that averages less than four yards per carry, at 3.81 per carry. The Eagles have ten rushing touchdowns on the season. Just ten. That’s usually been done in two games by the Eagles, not eight. At 17.6 points per game, the Eagles rank 121st in the country. They have scored 17 points or fewer five times, and haven’t score more than 27 points in any game. The Eagles inability to score leaves their defense vulnerable, keeping them on the field forever, and eventually get gassed, and scored on. The defense is giving up 38.4 points per game. That is nearly a three touchdown margin per contest. This is not just a team with a bad record, its a team that is just plain bad.

The Southern leaders are familiar faces for Mountaineer coaches. Freshman quarterback Shai Werts made a late visit to Appalachian in his recruiting process before signing with the Eagles. Werts is your typical dual-threat quarterback, perfect for the Georgia Southern system, but he needs time and help. Werts leads the team in rushing attempts, is second in yards, and had two of his better games of the year after sitting out with an injury for the UMass game. Last weekend, Werts had a 22/28 passing game for 147 yards and a touchdown. Those aren’t crazy numbers, but for a Georgia Southern signal caller, you’ll take that every day. Werts’ leading receiver, Obe Fortune was also a former App recruit, and was committed to the Mountaineers for some time before changing his mind. Fortune’s 15 catches have covered 189 yards which includes a 50 yard touchdown.

Jalin Moore has had his setbacks this season. From one injury to the next, in and out of practice to putting up the performance he did last weekend without being 100% healthy. It will be mostly forgotten, but he did something that can maybe spark this team by showing some fire when the chips are stacked against you. Moore scored three straight touchdowns for the Mountaineers last weekend. He accumulated 198 total yards, highlighted by his 75 yard touchdown reception. He showed how to be a leader this past week without always being on the field during practice, but giving everything he had when his number was called. Despite this injury riddled campaign, he has still managed 5.0 yards per carry for the year and has amassed 717 total yards in the eight games he has played in.

We’ve all known what kind of team we have had for several weeks now. This is not a group than can overcome multiple mental mistakes and win comfortably. Twice in the past two weeks the defense has given up the go-ahead or tying score in the final moments. That is not what we have come to expect from a Mountaineer defense. It’s super disappointing to say the least, but it is a part of the growing pains of a team that is evolving with new contributors in places where we have been accustomed to familiar faces. The pains hurt, but they’ll pay off in the future. Beau Nunn and Colby Gossett can’t man the right side forever. We’ll be thrilled to have hopefully have three returning offensive lineman next season with significant playing time. There are plenty similar examples all over the field. Although those faces have to eventually change, this rivalry doesn’t. Just about every time Georgia Southern comes to Boone, especially in the modern era, the game has been played in the month of October. The last time this game was played in November in Boone was in 1939. Southern has won in Boone once in the month of November, in the series first game in 1932. Appalachian has won three straight in this series on three occasions, and can make it a fourth on Thursday night by getting back to the basics of playing sound defense. App has shown it can score points if it wants to, but sustaining drives has been the winning formula for this program over the last couple seasons. I am looking for the defense to make up for lost time and send the Eagles back down south for the winter.

The First Pick

EAGLLLLLLLLLES 10

Mountaineers 28

Appalachian Football @ Louisiana-Monroe

Appalachian State (5-3, 4-0 Sun Belt) vs Louisiana-Monroe (3-5, 3-3 Sun Belt)

Saturday, November 4th, 2017 3:00pm est

TV/Video: ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

JPS Field at Malone Stadium

Surface: FieldTurf Revolution

Capacity: 30,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 64.28

Monroe: 52.05

Home: 2.14

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 10 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -9.5

Series: App State leads 3-0

Last meeting: App State 42, Monroe 17, November 19th, 2016

          What is they say about winning? Plenty of people have said many things about winning over the years. Vince Lombardi called it a “habit”. Lombardi called it the “only thing”. Kareem-Abdul Jabbar said you can’t win unless you learn how to lose. Mia Hamm was quoted, “Whoever said winning isn’t everything, never won anything”. All those are great, but my favorite line ever is by Vin Scully: Losing feels worse than winning feels good. That nails it every time. As Mountaineer football fans, over the years, we have walked out of a lot more stadiums with a smile on our face, than we have with a frown. But those frowns, they are the worst. They can ruin a lot more than the next few minutes, but sometimes the next few hours, and sometimes it can linger for a couple days even. Luckily, there are more games to play. Strike that. Thankfully there are more games to play. Truth is, the Mountaineers have been tight roping it for the last month. All it was going to take was a slight lean one way or the other, and it was going to come crashing down. But, there is plenty left at stake. Plenty of time to pick up the pieces, and plenty of time to figure out how to get back up and start the next streak. The pride of Appalachian will not allow this little bump in the road to get the best of us.

         Although the Monroe season started with losses to Memphis (7-1), and Southern Miss (5-3), they looked good in those losses and it appeared that Matt Viator was turning it around. A game with Florida State was cancelled as well, and is doubtful to be played unless the Seminoles need a win for bowl eligibility. After that start, the Warhawks followed with three straight wins in Sun Belt play, most notably over Louisiana, and were averaging nearly 51 points per game in those contests. But then, the bottom fell out. Three straight losses followed and the Warhawks were scoring less than 28 points per contest. Their defense was allowing fewer points, but the offense was not sustaining their earlier success.

          The story for Monroe is their offense, plain and simple. The Warhawks are at the top of Sun Belt in many offensive categories, including 2nd in scoring, total offense, and rushing offense. They rank third in the Sun Belt in passing offense. Freshman Marcus Green is second in the conference in all purpose yards, and is the only freshman in the top ten of that category. He does it all, returning kickoffs and punts, and has carried the load in the air, leading the team with 455 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Not far behind Green is quarterback Caleb Evans, who has 1,710 yards passing, and   nine touchdowns to just two interceptions. Where Evans gets you is on the ground. He’s their leading rusher with 412 yards and nine more touchdowns. Evans makes them go, but is not perfect. He an be found lobbing up passes lazily, and its a wonder more have not been intercepted. Balls floating around in the secondary could mean big plays for the App State secondary.

         For all the good that Monroe delivers on the offensive side of the ball, their defense is the exact opposite. They are gruesomely bad. They are 12th of twelve teams in pass defense, and total defense and opponents first downs. They are 11th in run defense and 9th in scoring defense. In two specific games I was able to watch, the Warhawk defenders appeared uninterested in pursuing ball carriers and their inability to tackle was almost embarrassing. In the past, Monroe was actually decent on defense, but it was their offense that was the reason they struggled.

         With eight games played this season, four on the road, and four at home, an ugly trend has reared its head with the App State offense. In road games, the offense has become incredibly predictable. How predictable you ask? Although Taylor Lamb has only attempted 16 more passes at home than on the road this season, he’s completed just three more passes. The difference is the kind of passes. Lamb’s yards per attempt at home is four whole yards higher than his road split. It’s hard to explain how the play selection could be that different. Last year that difference was one yard, which is still a huge discrepancy. But, Lamb also threw for over 300 more yards on the road last season than at home. In 2017, Lamb has thrown for nearly 600 more yards in home games, which is a 900 yard swing from one year to the next. This is not the result of a one game or two skewing the data. This is a complete flip in philosophy.

          So here we are again. The Mountaineers will take to the road for the second straight week for the only time this season. In every road game, the Mountaineers have failed to score first. Opponents have scored 71 combined points before the Mountaineers in such games. Monroe is not the type of team you want to chase all afternoon. They will wear you down. You have to get them uncomfortable, getting them away from their ground game. If the Mountaineers cannot find some offense this weekend, I’m not sure when they will. Last week was another example of fantastic adjustments by the defense to give the offense a chance to climb back, but they fell short in the final two minutes, allowing UMass to drive 54 yards in twelve plays for the tying field goal. It was the longest scoring drive the defense gave up. The defense will give up some points this weekend. That’s not in doubt. The question is whether or not the offense can score enough. Sure, thats the backbone of every game in any sport that is ever played. For me, Taylor Lamb and the Mountaineer passing game has to step up and extend the field. Monroe runs a 4-2-5 defensive set, that likes to pressure the line of scrimmage, more out of annoyance than to make a big play. Those passes App dropped out of the backfield last weekend need to be caught. Obviously the ugly parts of the game, penalties, and turnovers can’t be like last weekend either. This is as big as it gets this weekend for the Mountaineers as far as confidence goes for the rest of the season. I expect App to respond in a big way, 

The First Pick

Former Indians 20

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football vs New Mexico State

Appalachian State (2-2, 1-0 Sun Belt) vs New Mexico State (2-3, 0-1 Sun Belt)

Saturday, October 7th, 2017 3:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: Fieldturf

Capacity: 23,150

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 67.40

New Mexico State: 58.11

Home: 1.94

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 11 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -10.5

Series: App State leads 1-0

Last meeting: App State 37, New Mexico State 7, November 26th, 2016

          The last two weeks, have felt like years. Bye weeks can be like that, forget what happened in the previous game. Forget that the last opponent was a long lost rival, a game that had been eagerly anticipated, and ended with an unfortunate thud. I’ll never look at the number 19 the same ever again. The 19th amendment of the US Constitution gave women the right to vote, but I’ll be thinking about Wake Forest. Adele’s debut album was titled “19”, but I’ll be thinking about untimely penalties against Wake Forest. The atomic number of Potassium is 19, which has the oddest symbol of the periodic table; the letter “K”. In that football game we all love, the letter K stands for kicker, and of course the kicks we didn’t convert against Wake Forest. So the next time you eat a banana, you’ll think about Wake Forest. Try and forget that for the time being, and lets turn our focus to an improved New Mexico State team that looks to make a statement on their way out of the Sun Belt. Their sites are set on a bowl game, and they have an offense that can make that happen, especially in a down year for the Sun Belt. It’s rare that Appalachian loses a Homecoming game, but the Aggies are just the kind of team that can make it interesting. 

          Even though New Mexico State sits below .500 on the season, their losses are extremely respectable. Arizona State & Troy were lucky enough to get by in one possession games, and Arkansas got up early and held serve for the remainder of the game last weekend. The wins the Aggies have under their belt are against New Mexico and UTEP. Two teams that mean so much from a rivalry perspective, that wins over those schools were included in Doug Martin’s new contract that didn’t increase his salary but was very incentive laden. A victory over either school gives Martin a $5,000 bonus. He’ll also receive an additional $20,000 bonus for six wins or a bowl invite. 

          New Mexico State was trending up last year. Remember, the Mountaineers and Aggies teed it up in one of the final games of the 2016 season. New Mexico State beat Louisiana last year, and should have beaten Georgia Southern. They played South Alabama within a touchdown on the road in their final game. This improvement was in the works last season. Now they had their blowout games, but that hasn’t been the case this year. They lost to Arkansas by 18 points. In 2016, they had six such losses of 18 points or more.  

          The Aggies employ a typical three headed monster on offense, a tall pocket passer behind center, a very experienced running back and big target to throw to down the field. Tyler Rogers missed the App game last year due to a injury in practice the week of the game. Rogers is in the top ten in the country in several passing categories. Not in the Sun Belt, in the country. This is a team that likes to toss the ball around the yard. Rogers trails only UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph in passing yards. He’s fifth nationwide with 15 touchdown passes. His favorite target, Jaleel Scott has 543 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Scott can catch the ball all over the field and has sure hands. His lanky frame doesn’t have blazing speed, but his wide catch radius makes it easy on Rogers to find him. Larry Rose III ranks in the top ten for active FBS running backs in his career. Despite averaging just over four yards a carry, Rose III also an impact with his receiving skills, as he has snagged twenty-two passes this season. As Rose III goes, so do the Aggies. He has 38 carries for 243 yards in two Aggie wins, and just 33 carries for 154 yards in their losses.  

        Appalachian took the lead away from Wake Forest on three different occasions the last time out. They had nine more first downs, nearly two hundred more yards passing, and still outpossesed the Deacons by nearly eleven and a half minutes. It was a game that featured fewer than forty points, but only four punts, and zero turnovers. Taylor Lamb had a big day, with 372 passing yards, spread out among eight different receivers, all catching at least two passes. The Mountaineer running game is still a work in progress, but Terrance Upshaw worked hard for 86 yards whole Jalin Moore struggled and was clearly not 100% healthy. 

          A lot of the talk leading up this game has centered around the New Mexico State offense, and how much better they are. A good offense can help a defense improve just by default really. More time to rest and adjust, and you can pay defense a lot looser with the lead. While Appalachian was resting last weekend, preparing for the Aggies, the New Mexico State defense spent 41 minutes on the field defending the Razorbacks. Arkansas churned out a balanced 494 yards of total offense. At halftime of that game, Coach Doug Martin was interviewed, and mentioned that he was surprised how much Arkansas threw the ball. Immediately, all I could think about was him perhaps saying the exact same thing the following week. Out of necessity, the Mountaineers have been putting the ball up in the air more often. Now, that New Mexico State defense doesn’t really do anything exceptionally well. They are ranked in the mid-80’s in total defense, which is below average, and that team has a lot of travel miles on them between games. They have forced a few turnovers, but most of those came in their blowout of UTEP where they snatched five interceptions. UTEP started 0-5 this season and their coach just resigned. To quickly summarize, that is where this game is going to be won and lost. I have no doubt that New Mexico State might get a bunch of yards, but they have to be able to finish. App State has one of the best red-zone defenses in the country, allowing just five touchdowns in twelve attempts on the young season. The Aggies will have some drives, but App has also done well in forcing three and outs all season. The Apps must cut off those drives quickly and keep the New Mexico State offense off the field. 

The First Pick

Toy Guns 21

Mountaineers 34

Appalachian Football vs Savannah State

Savannah State (0-0, 0-0 MEAC) @ Appalachian State (0-1, 0-0 Sun Belt)

Saturday, September 9th, 2017 3:30pm est

TV/Video: ESPN3

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Kidd Brewer Stadium

Surface: Field Turf

Capacity: 24,150 (est)

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 68.75

Savannah State: 13.03

Home: 2.41

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 58 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: n/a

Series: Appalachian State leads 1-0

Last meeting: App State 41, Savannah State 6, September 17th, 2011

         
        Occasionally, it’s not your day. Forget about how well you prepared, how rested or how healthy, or what you had for breakfast. Sometimes that moment you walk into work, someone says something to you the wrong way, or messes up the report despite telling them how important it was to make it right. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t work out. So you rise and grind one more day, guzzle coffee the same way and hope the result is different. That is essentially what happened to the Mountaineers last Saturday. For every positive play, a negative closely followed. Now it does not matter what happens this weekend. No amount of touchdowns or scoring margin will help us change anything that has happened in the past. But we can look forward to the future. The athletic department has installed it’s largest set of temporary bleachers for the 2017 season and oh yeah, a brand spanking new video board awaits the fans this Saturday. This weekend also presents itself as a tune up game before conference play starts next weekend. It’s the last chance for the Mountaineers to get it right before the games really start counting. The foremost goal for this program every season is to win the conference championship and this season, it starts a week earlier than it ever has while Appalachian has been in the Sun Belt. One more game for certain true freshman to get the kinks out and gel with their new teammates and one last first time to start a season for outgoing seniors who have been a part of one the most memorable runs in program history.          

         Savannah State presents a bit of an unknown quotient for the Mountaineers. They only played ten games last year, and have yet to play a game this season. Last year the Tigers won three games, none of them on the road. They lost 54-0 in their opener at Georgia Southern in 2016, before anyone knew how terrible the Eagles were. The Tigers have won a total of seven games since the last time they played Appalachian in 2011, so getting three wins last year was a major improvement. Second year head coach Erik Raeburn was 78-13 at Wabash College, a Division III school located in Indiana, and led his squad to five playoff berths in eight seasons. 

           The strength of the Tigers is more likely their defense. Despite only two defenders being named to the preseason MEAC third team on defense, those two defenders made the second team last season at the end of the year. They like to blitz and will do whatever it takes to get to the quarterback. The offense leaves something to be desired, averaging just 14 points in 2016, and rushing for fewer yards last season as a team than App State’s own Jalin Moore. The Tigers managed just 12.1 first downs per game and just 3.9 yards per play over the course of the season. Expect improvements from Savannah State as they know the offense needs work. Quarterback TJ Bell returns as a dual threat option and will handle a load of the offensive burden. 

           Last week the Mountaineers were without two of their main playmakers in the passing game due to injuries. Having known that last week, might have made this prediction a little different. Although passing the ball is not a huge part of the App offense, it is a part that needs to be a threat. As the first half grew on last week, it was evident App had zero intentions of throwing the ball vertically down the field, opting for safer attempts to the sideline or to running backs in the flat. A vertical threat is essential and without it, the Mountaineers became very predictable as the game progressed. It appears that Shaedon Meadors might be out for an extended time while Darryton Evans could be back much sooner. That leaves a lot heavy lifting in the hands of some true freshman to get a lot of experience early in their career. 

          Because the passing game was so inept and careful, it took a major toll on the App ground game. Georgia made sure that Jalin Moore didn’t beat them. Much like last year, after Moore replaced an injured Marcus Cox, he was a little impatient waiting for his running lanes to develop. Timing is everything in the zone blocking scheme and Moore seemed too excited last weekend. Sometimes it takes a few games to really start clicking. I would expect to see Moore get back to form this weekend, and hopefully we can see some depth at the running back position later in the game.          

         

          There is not a ton to be said about analyzing a game that will more than likely lead to a very lopsided score. Before those who panic get my attention, I am fully aware that Howard beat UNLV this past weekend. Yes, that same Howard the Mountaineers have played in the past, but UNLV is nothing near as talented as the App State is. If UNLV were to come to Boone, you are more than likely looking at a three score margin. Some indexes have UNLV rated behind several, as in closer to twenty, FCS schools. Its not happening this weekend. Just as App can be a bought game for some schools, it works the same for Savannah State. I would like to see the Tigers win the rest of their games, after Saturday of course. The question is not how, but by how much. I do not believe in the fifteen years I have been writing this little Wednesday night think piece that I have seen the Sagarin rankings have such a large spread between App and its opponent. When App faced Campbell in 2014, the expected margin was 34 points. The Mountaineers went on to win 66-0 in a game that was interrupted by a severe thunderstorm. In 2011, the Apps had 49.5 point expected margin, and didn’t get there against Savannah State. I can’t bring myself to pick something outrageous, but if App is running base plays and the Tigers cant stop them, it will get out of control quickly. Usually the App coaching staff is not one to run up a score for the sake of it. We tend to get the game under control and coast. I feel like that is a more likely outcome. Give me the Mountaineers by six …. touchdowns. 

           

The First Pick

Tiggers 6

Mountaineers 48

Appalachian Football @ #15 Georgia

Appalachian State (0-0, 0-0 Sun Belt) @ #15 Georgia (0-0, 0-0 SEC)
Saturday, September 2nd, 2017 6:15pm est

TV/Video: ESPN

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Sanford Stadium

Surface: Natural Grass

Capacity: 92,746

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.30

Georgia: 83.70

Home: 2.41

Georgia is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 16 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: Georgia -14.5

Series: Georgia leads 1-0

Last meeting: Georgia 45, App State 6, November 9th, 2013

         

         The last time Appalachian opened a season with Georgia on the schedule, not as the opener, but on the schedule, it was Scott Satterfield’s first year as head coach. It has been a quick five years since 2013, and a lot has changed on the mountain. That 2013 squad wanted to finish their final season in the FCS with a 12-0 record despite being ineligible for any sort of post season play due to FBS transition. That dream quickly vanished, as Appalachian had one of their worst seasons in program history. At that point, App was forced to hit the reset and fast forward buttons at the same time. The purpose of the decision to accelerate experience among young players, brought visions of being in this exact scenario in 2017, with a chance to spring an upset, and build what could become a special season. It’s difficult to tell that story quicker. Presumably, two games this season could tell the story of this team, and define how good this Mountaineer squad really can be. One of those opportunities presents itself this weekend in Athens. The Bulldogs are coming off a sub par season, for Georgia standards, but a leap in results is expected now that Kirby Smart is in his second year as head coach. A healthy recruiting class and a boatload of returning talent has the experts thinking Georgia could make a run, but are cautious at the same time placing the the ‘Dawgs in the middle of the polls. Not too high, not too low. They could go anywhere from there, but its the Mountaineers who are looking to move up, and could move in that direction in a big way on Saturday. 

          
         Mark Richt could haunt the Mountaineers twice in as many seasons pending the result this weekend. Last year, Richt coached up his alma mater to big a win over Appalachian in Boone. This season, Smart’s alma matar could take most of Richt’s former players and humble the Mountaineers. Could be that Richt’s players are just made to beat Appalachian. Regardless of what happens, Richt has played a heavy part in these games. Richt was run out of town, and yet Georgia gave a Kirby Smart a bit of a leash while the ‘Dawgs regressed in 2016 finishing 4-4 in the SEC East, in a three-way tie with the likes of Tennessee and Kentucky. You know, that same Tennessee team that App pushed around on the opening Thursday night in 2016 despite losing. 

          Catching Georgia on the opening weekend would seem to give Appalachian a better chance of catching lightning in a bottle. But, that Tennnesee/App game last year could work in Georgia’s favor given the recency of that game. Kirby Smart has mentioned ad nauseum how he was able to watch tape of Appalachian last year while preparing for Tennessee, and spoken highly of how well the Apps played defensively. Smart knows a good defense when he sees one, as he coordinated the Alabama defense for eight years. 
                     

           With an entire offseason to wander about a teams weakness or strengths, especially this Georgia team that has plenty of them, you won’t read anything groundbreaking before Week One. The “Dawgs have two very good tailbacks who they rotate in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Both could have opted for the NFL draft this past spring, but both were recovering form injuries from the previous season and wanted to improve their stock. Both would have been drafted. Chubb is fifth in active FBS rushing and Michel is 15th. Chubb has more career rushing yards than Todd Gurley, who many of you might be foolishly selecting in your fantasy football drafts. Appalachian’s run defense is no slouch and will be up to the challenge, considering how they contained Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara almost exactly one year ago. 

           The real question mark of the Georgia offense is what Jacob Eason does to improve off of his freshman season. Constantly harassed last season, Eason was either sacked or threw an interception in every game in 2016. He had a stretch in games two through six, where he threw an interception each week. He was sacked twenty-one times last year and posted four games with passer efficiency ratings under 100. He finished the season completing 55.1% of his passes, good enough for 10th in the SEC. Two Florida quarterbacks finished higher in that category. Needless to say, there is plenty of room for improvement for Eason. 
            

           We are all very familiar with the Mountaineer offense. You know about four year starting quarterback Taylor Lamb, and Jalin Moore, who looks to defend his Sun Belt offensive player of year honor in just his junior season. After 731 yards as a freshman, Moore exploded for 1,402 yards last season, giving him 2,133 yards in just just two seasons. You know about the offensive line that has three preseason all-Sun Belt honorees, including Colby Gossett and Beau Nunn on the first team. Last, but not least, Shaedon Meadors returns for his senior season also garnering a first team All Sun Belt honor coming off a forty-five reception campaign last year. 
         

          Although most of the fall news revolved around the offense, the Appalachian defense is locked and loaded for another spectacular season. After a season in which they allowed just under 18 points a game, and intercepted twenty passes, this group also returns a lot of talent. The defensive line is loaded with season veterans in Tee Sims, Myquon Stout and Caleb Fuller. Anthony Flory and Rashad Townes will step in for the departed John Law and Kenan Gilchrist. Clifton Duck, AJ Howard and Josh Thomas have also seen significant playing time while on the mountain. A lot of the newcomers, such as Flory and others who will get repetions in the secondary just needed to wait their turn. This Mountaineer defense doesnt rebuild, it simply reloads. 

          Just about anything and everything that can be said about the first week of college football has been printed or spoken over this long summer stretch. The college game lost a lot of great players last year to the NFL and graduation. This could be one of the more wide-open seasons we have seen in awhile. Nobody knows if Georgia has what it takes to ascend to the top of the SEC or remain in the middle of a crowded SEC. A lot was said about Tennessee last season before the games actually kicked off. The Vols were the potential title contenders. It wasn’t to be. Georgia could make a run, and I hope they do, you know after losing the first one, right? I like the chances the Mountaineers have on Saturday. Georgia likes to be a balanced team, and to extent, so does Appalachian. But both squads have the ability to punish you if they see a weakness. Speaking of weaknesses, I can’t stop thinking about that Georgia offensive line. It’s easily the most glaring going into this game this weekend on both teams. Even this week, the ‘Dawgs have been rotating lineman during practice, in the name “getting guys reps”. Thats good fluff for the media, that I believe  translates to this: We’re going to be grading our guys from the first snap, and whoever plays well during the game will get more playing time”. I truly believe Georgia is concerned. Before the season is done Eason is going to need time to throw. Georgia simply can’t ask Chubb and Michel to carry the load all season long. It might be enough this Saturday, but not for the duration of the season.  If App wants to be successful, I think they follow a very generic “Tennessee” game script, playing possession football and leaning on their defense. Taylor Lamb is going to need a big day, whether with his legs or his arm, and I don’t have a preference. 
           
The First Pick

Hair of the Dawg 27

Mountaineers 24

Appalachian Football @ Georgia Southern

Here we go with Week 8

Appalachian State (5-2, 3-0 Sun Belt) @ Georgia Southern (4-3, 3-1 Sun Belt)

Thursday, October 27th, 2016 7:30 est

TV/Video: ESPNU

Radio: WKBC 97.3 Wilkesboro, Charlotte, Winston Salem, Hickory & High Country; WATA 1450 Boone, Blowing Rock; WGVZ ESPN 730 Charlotte, Rock Hill, Salisbury; WCOG 1320 Winston-Salem, Greensboro; WCMC 99.3 Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill; WZGM 1350 Black Mountain, Asheville; WDNC 620 Durham, Raleigh; WHKP 1450, WHKP 107.7 Hendersonville; WAZZ 1490, WAZZ 94.3 Fayetteville; WPWT 870 AM, 100.7 FM Bristol/Johnson City, TN

Paulson Stadium

Surface: Shaw Legion 41 synthetic turf

Capacity: 25,000

Jeff Sagarin Ratings

App State: 70.59

Ga Southern: 62.73

Home: 2.42

App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 5.5 points (rounded)

Sportsbook: App State -5

Series: App State leads 17-13-1

Last meeting: App State 31, Ga Southern 13, October 22nd, 2015, Boone, NC
       

         Robbed of anticipation and talk, both smack and small, is the main issue for fans when they deal with midweek football. Especially, when the next game on the schedule is your most hated rival, that time to relax before the next game does not exist. The last win was, literally, almost yesterday, and it’s time to get geared up for another one. But, this one is not just another, it’s Southern. Dust off all your cliche rivalry talk, because it all applies. Is there another rivalry that has been so intense in such a short amount of time? These two schools have only played thirty-one games in their history, and only twenty-five games in the modern era, yet it seems every time they tee it up, it’s like the Hatfields and McCoys. The faces may change, but the disdain remains. This group of Eagles are enduring the strife of a new coaching staff that wants to do things differently with the same ingredients and get the same results. It’s not working out like they wanted. Appalachian enjoys its snugness of a tight coaching staff that maintains their winning ways and the proof is in the pudding. The Mountaineers are a win away from being bowl eligible, and Southern needs this game even more, as their schedule just gets tougher down the stretch. Thursday night might not be a turning point in this rivalry, but the winds are blowing a different direction this season in the Sun Belt. 

         It’s hard to imagine a Georgia Southern team with three losses before the end of October. The first true sign that the Eagles were stumbling occured about a month ago. Southern was visiting Western Michigan, a team they had handled easily in Statesboro a year before. The Broncos suffocated the Eagles rushing attack, limiting the big plays and keeping Matt Breida and Kevin Ellison below four yards per carry on the night. Since then, Western Michigan continues to row the boat as they find themselves ranked 20th in the country this week. Perhaps, the ultimate “uh-oh” moment for Southern came in their loss to Arkansas State. The Eagles were thoroughly dominated by the Red Wolves, but were able to hold a two score lead into the fourth quarter, thanks to five turnovers committed by Arkansas State. The Eagles play calling was their ultimate demise, electing to pass late in the game with a lead compared to milking the clock. Arkansas State scored in the closing seconds for a stunning come-from behind win. 

          Southern picked up a win over NMSU last weekend, just like Idaho did the week before playing Appalachian, to end their three game losing streak. However, the road victory did not lack for excitement. The Eagles did just enough for a 22-19 win over the now 124th ranked defense in college football. Both Southern and NMSU turned the ball over three times while The Eagles were outgained by the Aggies by a 432-404 margin. Matt Breida was held to 41 yards on fifteen carries. Kevin Ellison completed all eight of his passes, seven to Southern receivers and one to NMSU. 

          The fact is that Southern is slowly moving away from Willie Fritz football, who bolted to Tulane, into the offensive style of Tyson Summers, which calls for less option based running plays and a more run-pass option dimension. It’s not Georgia Southern football. We all remember Chris Hatcher and Brian Van Gorder and their efforts of modernizing football down in east Georgia. It didn’t work and they didn’t have a job long. The Eagles have three 100-yard rushing efforts on the season, two by quarterbacks. Not LA Ramsby. Not Matt Breida. Not Wesley Fields. Demarcus Godfrey ran for 124 yards against Savannah State, but has not carried the ball since. 

           Southern still employs the two quaterback system, generally starting the game with Kevin Ellison, and working in Favian Upshaw and rotating the two as the game allows. Unfortunately, the Southern offensive line has dropped off severely and Ellison and Upshaw have taken many hits in the last few weeks. Arkansas State made a point to gang tackle Ellison at every chance, while Georgia Tech used Upshaw as a punching bag. Upshaw did not play against NMSU and Tyson Summers did not show any of his cards when updating the media on the health of his signal callers ahead of this week’s game. Summers went so far as to say he could play three quarterbacks on Thursday night. 

          The defensive strategy the Mountaineers rely on was on display, front and center. Idaho could only manage a late touchdown and four field goals. It was the exact struggle we mentioned last week regarding Idaho. Not enough touchdowns, too many field goals. Appalachian may have allowed 295 passing yards, but it was a very quiet 295 yards. Appalachian was constantly disruptive, picking off Linehan three times and sacking him on four instances. The secondary occasionally gets up a bad reputation, but they remain in the top thirty in the nation in passing efficiency defense, having only allowed eight passing touchdowns in seven games. The Mountaineers twelve interceptions are also good enough for seventh nationally. 
            
           Georgia Southern will return home to Paulson for the first time in forty days. The Eagles spent an extra day in New Mexico for some reason. You would think after all that time away from home, Southern would like to get back as soon as possible. Neither App or Southern resemble their squads from two years ago, when the two faced off in their first ever Sun Belt game, and they aren’t the teams from one year ago either. But, if anything, the one common denominator from 2015 to ’16 is the App defense. Generally, you look at any football team, averaging 265 yards on the ground and think you have a big challenge ahead. This is a regressing Eagle team, averaging just a mere 4.6 yards per carry, and forcing the issue, running the ball just over 57 times a game. The Southern staff wants to throw more, but they don’t have the pieces in place yet to fully commit. The fact that Matt Breida has 378 yards and only one touchdown rushing is criminal. The Eagles have scored 204 points this season, but over one-fourth of those points were scored in their opening game against Savannah State. Since then, the Eagles have been stuck in the twenties for five of their last six games. They have the talent to do much more than they have, but they have not been put in the situation to succeed. Meanwhile, Appalachian has a chance to get a big road win, and they may finally have the services of Marcus Cox back on the field. If Cox is near 100%, his fresh legs will be a huge advantage for the Mountaineers on Thursday, and for the rest of the season. 

The First Pick

The Blues 21

Mountaineers 31